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The Flat:  A Film by Arnon Goldfinger cover photo

The Flat: A Film by Arnon Goldfinger 2011

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Ruth Diskin Films Ltd., P.O.Box 7153, Jerusalem, 91071, ISRAEL
Produced by Arnon Goldfinger and Thomas Kufus; and Zero One Film
Directed by Arnon Goldfinger
DVD, color, 88 min.

College - General Adult
Jewish Holocaust, Israel, History

Date Entered: 05/01/2014

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

The Flat is living proof that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this award-winning documentary, pictures of his grandparents posing with two unknown strangers intrigue Arnon Goldfinger and prompt him to find out who the strangers are and how his grandparents knew them.

When the film opens, Gerda Tuchler, Arnon’s grandmother, has recently died. She and her husband, Kurt, left Germany in the 1930s and went to Palestine. The Tuchlers lived the rest of their lives in a Tel Aviv apartment in which they recreated their Berlin surroundings. An expert brought in to evaluate their large German library comments that German Jews may have suffered there, fled Germany, and lived in Israel for half a century or more, but their hearts remained in Germany.

Arnon, his mother, siblings, and other family members are clearing out the apartment. The family laughs over Gerda’s hoards of gloves, shoes, pocketbooks, costume jewelry, and old furs. They fill huge numbers of garbage bags with the things no one wants and examine hundreds of old photographs, including the one portraying the Tuchlers and the two strangers.

Arnon, curious about his family history, asks his mother and siblings about Grandfather Kurt, said to have been a respected traffic court judge. No one knows much. Arnon’s mother cannot dispose of the scads of saved letters and other papers without reading them first. In a stack of old newspapers, she finds an issue from 1934 with a red banner announcing (in German): “A Nazi travels to Palestine.” What does it mean? Arnon is hooked; he has to find out.

The article and Arnon’s subsequent investigations, which viewers see and follow as the film progresses, reveal that before World War II, the Tuchlers accompanied Leopold von Mildenstein—an SS officer who headed the Third Reich’s SS Office of Jewish Affairs—and his wife on a Nazi mission seeking a place to relocate Germany’s Jews. A warm friendship ensued. Arnon learns that the von Mildensteins are the strangers in the photograph. This is surprising in itself, because Leopold was Adolph Eichmann’s mentor and must have been involved in the Final Solution that murdered 6,000,000 European Jews. Even more astonishing is that later photographs and letters established that the Tuchler-von Mildenstein friendship continued long after the war ended.

Spoiler alert! Eventually traveling to Germany and uncovering documents in Nazi archives that establish von Mildenstein’s SS credentials, Arnon and his mother visit von Mildenstein’s daughter, Edda, and show her the results of their searches. Despite seeing the evidence, she staunchly denies that her father was an SS officer or helped to persecute the Jews. Arnon and his mother try to visit her grandfather’s grave in an old German cemetery. They count off the grave numbers, but the numbers stop before they reach the one they want. Instead, where the grave once was is an empty space. [Note: In Hebrew, English, and German, with excellent subtitles.]